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Donner restrictions postponed

JOHN A. BAYLESS, Sierra Sun

A Truckee Town Council subcommittee backed away from its recommendations last week for restrictions on Donner Lake, although letters from state and a private consultant have indicated that the water quality of the lake may be threatened by two-cycle engines.

Town council considered the new information and a revised recommendation by the subcommittee before authorizing formation of a committee of resident “stakeholders” to seek a compromise plan to preserve the health of Donner Lake.

In the crowded council meeting, dozens of people on both sides of the issue spoke during public comment on the subcommittee recommendation, and the council approved the revised recommendation unanimously.

The subcommittee’s initial recommendations would have placed a speed limit of 10 mph before 10 mph before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and would have enacted a 10 mph speed limit all day Sunday, as well as any holiday Mondays.

That would have effectively eliminated skiing, wakeboarding and personal watercraft use during the 10 mph periods. That plan prompted a flood of protests from residents.

Although the council did not approve the new speed limits, it did propose strict enforcement for violations of the existing lake ordinances – a “zero-tolerance” policy similar to that recently adopted by the Animal Control department.

The new residents’ committee will be responsible for building a consensus and generating short-term and long-term plans for boat use on the lake. The committee’s first meeting is today at Town Hall, from 3 to 5 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

Just hours before the council meeting Thursday, June 3, letters arrived from the State Department of Health Services and Donner Lake Water Co. engineers, expressing concern about the dangers of further MTBE contamination in the lake.

“Greater MTBE contamination of Donner Lake is a matter of concern because the Donner Lake Water Co. provides the domestic water supply to more than 1,200 residences and businesses around Donner Lake, and the lake is the system’s main source of water,” Health Services Department District Engineer Jess Morehouse Jr. noted in a letter to the water company. “The department is concerned that increased use of two-cycle watercraft on Donner Lake may cause the concentration of MTBE and other petroleum pollutants in the water supply to exceed drinking water standards.”

Morehouse said pollution is a great concern in the summer, when more residents are at the lake and watercraft activity is at its highest point.

He urged the water company to consider a number of actions, including:

– Support of a ban on two-stroke watercraft similar to the one on Lake Tahoe.

– Support of a limitation on the numbers of all watercraft that can be on the lake at one time.

– Establishing a protective zone to exclude boat traffic around the water company’s lake intake.

– Extending the water intake to a deeper location further from the shoreline.

– Establishing a contingency plan to cope with MTBE pollution of the water supply or with a water supply shortage.

Luhdorff and Scalmanini, Consulting engineers, working for Donner Lake Water Co., is designing a new water treatment facility and is also designing a new deeper water intake.

“LSCE is attempting to lessen the potential introduction of these carcinogens into the supply by designing a deep water intake,” engineer William Gustavson wrote. “This measure alone cannot ensure complete protection. The only positive method that can be employed to ensure the elimination of the petroleum contaminants into the drinking water supply is to ban the use of internal combustion engines (specifically, two-cycle engines) on the lake. This should be followed by additional monitoring of he lake water to ensure no further degradation is occurring.”

Councilmember Don McCormack, who served on the watercraft subcommittee with fellow councilmember Bob Drake, said he supports the plan to form a residents’ committee.

“We stepped back from the proposal we had because it pleased nobody,” McCormack said. “Boaters, skiers, jet skiers – everybody on all sides disliked it.” He said the committee came back with a proposal for increased enforcement of speed limits, prior to receiving the letters from Donner Lake Water Co. and the state.

“Because of the comments from the state, the water company will be doing a weekly analysis of the water,” McCormack said. “If the water quality becomes unsatisfactory, we will invoke a trigger to restrict boating on the lake.” He said one of the jobs of the residents’ committee will be to recommend appropriate action if water quality is threatened.

“While this all came up because of the Lake Tahoe ban, the most significant item in my opinion is the long-term pollution of Donner Lake,” McCormack said. “It is a small lake and gets significant traffic in the summer. One possible direction would be to adopt the same ban as Lake Tahoe.”

Attorney Jim Porter, who was retained to represent Donner Lake personal watercraft concession owner Dave Ceruti, said he supported the council’s decision.

“This is how government is supposed to work,” Porter said. “These are complex issues. The state mandated MTBE into gasoline, and now has mandated MTBE out of gasoline – each time to protect the environment and each time in a complete panic. We have to do better and make informed, not politically expedient, decisions.”

Town manager Steve Wright said the town is working with local gas station owners to see that Truckee gets MTBE-free gas as soon as possible. He said the downtown Texaco station, as well as both Shell stations in town offer MTBE-free gasoline. Some other stations in the area are waiting for refineries to be retrofitted to produce MTBE-free gasoline.


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